02/02/2010

Image and Consumption



This is Tim Westwood aka 'Big Dawg', Radio 1 DJ and son of the Anglican Bishop of Peterborough, deceased. He has just done his shopping at Tesco and in his twittered words was "just gettin my shop on - big ballin and shop callin!". Tim was brought up in Norfolk and attended the Norwich School, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the country. Arguably Tim's image, his appropriation of a culture which is not his own, including vernacular speech, clothing, the spinners on the wheels of his very pimped up ride is a construct.
We are here looking at an image of Tim Westwood, selected by him to go on his Twitter site - in itself this is interesting because it is possible to 'read' the picture - this is deliberate we are meant to be able to read it. Big Dawg is quite clearly telling us that he is part of Hip Hop culture and he needs a lot of Loo rolls.


This is Tim eating one of his favourite breakfasts, waffles. Note the products featured in the background, Aunt Jemma's buttermilk waffle mix and maple syrup. I am not sure if Tim set this photograph up deliberately or not - it is unlikely, but what is interesting are the objects and products that surround him, that he identifies with, that go some way towards describing him.
Tim Westwood is an extreme example but the question we are exploring is to what extent are we defined by the images that we consume - I have chosen to include objects and products because they could be constituent parts of a bigger picture/image. Tim Westwood clearlymakes very deliberate choices - his decisions are considered and very particular, he definitely surrounds himself with stuff that amplifies the image that he wants to project. Additionally we are thinking about the extent to which the cultural shift from words to pictures has enabled these readings and altered the way that we consume.
Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are examples of this shift perhaps, enabling anybody with a digital camera and home computer to quickly construct an open and globally available [visual] persona in minutes. Easy to maintain and update the online identity can be changed and evolved rapidly, adapting to trend changes describing recent experiences - projecting out to the world the individuals experiences/taste/preferences or favourite things. But perhaps more indicative of the desire to articulate a set of ideas visually, to project a visual identity, particularly for designers, is the blogosphere - this aspect of online culture has become one of the major ways that we can express ideas/opinions - show the world what we like/dislike - describe our unique visual perception - display our network of connections and monitor our/our ideas popularity in the process. It is an environment which encourages discussion and encouragement for the blogger and some more successful sites have become arbiters of taste providing the signpost to vistas of new visual experience for hungry followers.




And everything that we see is reproduced, our experience here is via the mediated image. All design practitioners, graphic designers, product and object makers and illustrators use the medium [and the subsequent mediated imagery] to talk about their ideas/interest/identity - the imagery that we select and 'publish' to promote these facets of our practice are, arguably, key - so, in the image saturated world, who regulates this process? I suspect that we are both passive consumer and image retailer in one and the proliferation of image in our culture is an inevitable consequence of the development of technology - will it shift our means of communication permanently and as designers and visual communicators what part do we/should we play in that process?